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Ashburton Guardian - Wednesday 28 May 2014
The New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA)review of historic Financial Assistance Rates (FARs) which determine the percentage of funding the Government gives us each year to spend on our local roads has been at the top of the Council's advocacy list. On average, for every dollar we spend on roads in the Ashburton district, 46.6% comes from the Government (funded from petrol taxes and road user charges) and the other 53.4% is funded from rates. The overall split in funding applies to roading work the NZTA agrees is appropriate. Anything over and above we have to fund ourselves.
Like many rural and provincial councils we have been lobbying long and hard for a higher percentage of the Government's co- investment funding. This month the NZTA let the Mayor know their Board had made some important initial decisions about FARs. While they have further work to do before confirming a rate, the good news is that there is a strong indication that Ashburton will be transitioned to a subsidy of 52% Government funding. Transitioning over a number of years to get to that higher rate because a number of other councils throughout the country will have their rates reduced and a substantial rate drop for any one council has been deemed undesirable.
With a fairer funding rate in sight, our advocacy efforts will now be focused on getting agreement with the NZTA on the levels of service they will fund with their share for different classifications of roads.
Bridges form part of the road network. Recent comments by some that ratepayers would need to fully fund a second Ashburton urban bridge are incorrect. The NZTA co-funded the Council's cost of the Notice of Requirement work done to date and will they will continue to co-fund the cost of any bridge that is eventually built.
Continuing on the theme of advocacy, our Mayor went to Wellington last month to speak to a Parliamentary Select Committee about concerns we had with proposed legislation that will restrict development contribution funding for community infrastructure. We are growing fast in Ashburton and we think developers should pay their fair share, but equally acknowledge that we don't want the level of development contributions to be so high that they discourage development or make new housing unaffordable. We had planned to receive development contribution funding towards the new Art Gallery and Museum facility, the EA Networks sports facility and any new replacement Council administration building that is built in the future. The Select Committee acknowledged our concerns and recommended changes that would allow the Council to continue to collect development contributions for projects that are already planned or underway.
The Government has also proposed that the Council formally review the delivery and cost-effectiveness of all its services every three years. While accepting the sound intent, there is a cost involved in doing this work which would need to be rate funded. This could be a significant burden if we tried to review all our activities at the same time. We submitted that reviews should be done on a rolling basis and that each activity be subject to a review every six years. The Select Committee agreed that the proposed legislation could impose inappropriate and unjustified demands and costs on councils. They proposed amendments to lessen the burden, including the longer six year period we suggested.
Of course, councils are not always successful with their advocacy. For our next Long Term Plan, which will take effect next year, we have been given a set of new mandatory non-financial performance measures for our infrastructure activities – water, sewerage, stormwater, roads and footpaths and for some councils, flood protection and control works. All New Zealand councils will have to report on their performance for at least 18 of the 19 measures in a prescribed format. These are measures that councils will be benchmarked on in future. In some cases we will need to invest in new auditable recording mechanisms to validate our results. While we could go to the expense of having additional measures it is more than likely the existing infrastructural performance measures we use at the moment will disappear, if not immediately then down the track. Why would we fund collection of data and reporting on two different sets of measures!
Despite considerable advocacy, in the roading and footpath area, the five new mandatory measures we must use have nothing at all for reporting on the maintenance and satisfaction or lack thereof for unsealed roads. The omission doesn't sit comfortably with the purpose of the mandatory measures, which is to provide ratepayers and residents with good information on the services councils provide. I understand that because many councils don't have large unsealed roading networks like ours it was decided that specific reporting on roads should be limited to the sealed network. We will keep trying.
The 19 new performance measures can be found on the local government section of the Department of Internal Affairs website www.dia.govt.nz
Andrew DalzielChief Executive